In 2007, if you asked for cola, chances are you’d be referring to a beverage sold by Bowen and Bowen. But in 2008, COLA referred to The Committee to Oust Lord Ashcroft. At its genesis, KREM Radio talk show host and KREM TV director, Mose Hyde, headed COLA’s ad hoc committee. At the time there was a lawsuit filed against KREM by Sagis, a Belize Bank affiliated company. That issue had fizzled and so had the acronym COLA, which was retooled as Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action under President Moses Sulph. After the transition from Mose to Moses, COLA then fell under the guidance of social justice advocate Geovannie Brackett. On November 28th, 2015 Brackett and four others tried to block a Foreign Affairs caravan on Coney Drive when Guatemala’s president Jimmy Morales paid a courtesy visit to the Prime Minister Dean Barrow. The Gang Suppression Unit might have tackled the group to the ground but that only inspired COLA’s president to more advocacy against Guatemala and the no to the ICJ campaign. Today COLA held a press conference during which Brackett recalled his humble beginning with the no to offshore drilling campaign when he greeted and introduced a new COLA president, 21 year old Shawn Christopher Saldano.
Geovannie Brackett – Former President of COLA: “The offshore drilling issue, no one was talking about it any at all. For months we tried to lobby it, even the NGO community. Even Oceana when they came, they were dealing with bottom trawling and COLA pushed and pushed until the gulf spill. We were happy that we managed to recruit and build a coalition, I was the founding Chairman and that was one of my highlights I think as President. COLA I believe has been the most vociferous organization on all issues, whether it was arresting and charging Elvin Penner, whether it was supporting the Feinstein Stake Bank Project in the area of economics, tourism, whether is with Yoni Rosada and the FECTAB crew, we supported, whether it was the Teachers Union and many times GrassRoots Organization failed to amass crowd but when we joined with Louis Wade and I won my country back we are close to about eighteen hundred people out there. COLA under my leadership with a non budget ran more a campaign based and I think Christopher will have the opportunity now to build on that and improve.”
If he looks familiar, COLA’S new president, 21 year old Shawn Saldano was one of the faces of the UDP Government’s 2010 “I am Belize” campaign. Saldano admittedly grew up in a UDP family. But will his strong UDP background have an influence in COLA? Not only did he say no, he also renounced his ties to the UDP in 2017. Saldano gave a vivid description of his backstory and his awakening to advocacy.
Shawn Christopher Saldano – President of COLA: “I derived from a strong United Democratic Party background and from in fact without parental coercion I could remember when I was a baby, this was about 2005, 2006 I was in infancy there or so when that oh holy strike and riot started. I could remember explicitly when the Prime Minister was the Leader of the Opposition at that time and he had his foam cup before him, you can check and see Mr. Vasquez and out of frustration pitched it down, very vividly. In my own consciousness I said man, that man must be there for the betterment and the development of the Belizean people so February 7th 2008 I was in High school but I was very vocal about my support and my endorsement to the United Democratic Party. I really and truly believed in their intentions of the universal betterment and development of Belize. When I graduated from High school, one week later I was employed as an intern and I was to go back to Jr. College the August 15th. I was asked an extension, I stayed as the Public Relations Officer to the Department of Youth Services but I placed on record my resignation August 16th of the following year. I was not employed, I have been out of the Department from that time. You are also going to recall me standing up with the teachers at BTL park for the strike, from the youth standpoint and the youth perspective but to answer your question now to what allowed me to derive here is because I have a mind of my own, I am educated, I am a thinker, I am a critical thinker, I am an analytical human being and I know that one plus one is not four. I do not believe in this political mentally because my parents or my family raised me into this UDP, PUP nonsense, I have to maintain that. I want to place on record that not because I don’t see eye to eye with the government labels me because I already heard some aspersion, now am I PUP man, that is neither here nor there, that is an absolute myth, I want to disallow that and discontinue that. There will be an inevitable alignment with any other political factors because as it is rightly so we are an activist group so it is not only limited to the People’s United Party, it is you know an open bandwagon for everybody.”
At the top of the press conference, former president Brackett said Saldano was endorsed as the new president in a packed room. We could not get an accurate description of the amount of active members of the organization. However, Saldano said that COLA will take the steps to become a fully registered NGO and will have a bank account and proper accounting of its finances and activities, which will include a summer camp for kids that will start in the summer.